By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Between October 1 and January 14, the glitz-addicted Jan Perry spoke at an opening for the swank Seven Grand, the latest hip offering by nightlife impresario Cedd Moses; attended a fancy reception for fashionista Barbara Fields; spoke at the “Community Celebration in Little Tokyo” and got in a plug for herself at the Universal Soul Circus as its “guest ringmaster.”
Like most of them, 10th District City Councilman Herb Wesson holds some meetings with everyday residents. But Wesson, who describes the City Council as the “most pure form of government,” gives a lot of face time to consultants, luxury developers and prolific political contributors. In fact, Wesson is viewed by several of his colleagues as a charming seat-warmer who, like Alarcon and Cardenas, brought back from Sacramento every known bad habit involving cozying up to lobbyists. Wesson was a forgettable Speaker of the Assembly, and still does not make much of an impact.
Meeting recently with Wesson were David Pourbaba, who builds luxury high-rise residential projects in Nevada, Arizona, Texas and California; multimillionaire Zenith Insurance honcho Stanley Zax, a political operator (Leon Panetta just left Zenith’s board to head the CIA) who showered politicians nationwide with $96,700 in 2008 alone; and lobbyist Ken Spiker, a longtime go-between for huge billboard companies, who snatched a meeting with Wesson to talk about his client Mike Mead’s interest in a city contract involving the Official Police Garage.
The schedule for Zine, who actually gets high marks from some council colleagues for being dedicated to his council job, even though he has fought the council’s taxes, surcharges and the payout to prankster Tennie Pierce, shows that he loves to chat up the press. Between October 1 and January 14, Zine was busy expanding his “Z” brand, which includes little “Z team” lapel pins that he and his staff wear. A former LAPD motorcycle cop, Zine scheduled more than 25 press calls and events about his widely mocked anti-paparazzi motion and about Special Order 40, which restricts police from asking a person’s immigration status. He was frequently on the radio shows of Kevin James of KRLA and Doug McIntyre of KABC.
Garcetti, who as council president has the power to reward or punish the others by giving and taking away choice committee jobs, regularly leaves L.A. to train as a reservist in the U.S. Navy — a little-known fact — driving to San Diego for a weekend each month. Garcetti is far more forthcoming and transparent than many of his colleagues. But he’s another one who pursues photo ops. His recent schedule shows a live phone interview at KNBC, a cocktail reception for the new Hollywood Palladium, and a visit to the “Historic Filipinotown Patrol Lighting Ceremony.” On Monday, October 6, Garcetti was busy with an East Hollywood “tree planting,” a “ribbon-cutting ceremony” at Helen Bernstein High School, a “Boyle Heights walk with the Los Angeles Times,” and an evening “drop” into the “Green Dot Ball.”
Although the council members cherish these sorts of activities, they serve to highlight the city council’s many failures. “I believe they are working very hard at making it look like they are accomplishing something,” says Valley community activist David Hernandez, yet another City Council watchdog running for mayor on March 3. “But there is a difference between activity and accomplishment.”
One of the ways the council creates the appearance, if not the actuality, of accomplishment, is by spreading around pots of money from a thing called the General City Purposes Fund — a perfectly legal, $100,000 slush fund that is essentially a wide-open gift card handed annually to each council member.
For years, good-government advocates have complained about this perk, but according to Nelson, who is a former Department of Neighborhood Empowerment general manager who also served as chief of staff to maverick City Councilman Joel Wachs, the questionable fund has instead been quietly “institutionalized.”
“I would be very, very surprised if other major City Councils have those $100,000 gift cards,” says law professor Parlow, the expert on L.A. governance. Multiplied by 15, he notes, the slush fund costs taxpayers “$1.5 million right there, with no strings attached. There have been many, many attempts to take that money away from the L.A. City Council, but it always makes it back into the budget. Only a very, very, very small number of L.A. residents know the council has this money — taxpayer money — and I don’t think many L.A. residents would be happy to learn it. But it is very hard to hold such a legislative body accountable.”
In almost every case, the 15 give enough of that public cash to worthy or worthy-seeming groups that a loud caterwaul goes up whenever someone suggests the slush fund should be dissolved to stop council members from pursuing its other main use: bankrolling their personal cheering sections.
For example, Perry gave $1,000 in taxpayer funds to United Way; Reyes, of Council District 1, sent $1,000 to the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition; Garcetti wrote a $7,500 check to the Armenian Relief Society; Zine contributed $500 to the United Peace Officers Against Crime summer camp for at-risk youth.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city